Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Questionable Prayers

I know that I may often pray "amiss".  I pray less selfish prayers than I used to, but I still wonder about some of them.   That aside, do I really think that He doesn’t care about the desires of my heart concerning some matters, especially when they are present on  a continual basis?  Do I really think that He ignores those, or has no plan for the fulfillment of such?  Should I think so little of His kindness, or so little of our relationship, that I would think such things? Jesus did not want to be separated from His Father.  Of course, He probably knew that asking not to would mean the death of all of us.  This didn’t keep Him from being honest in His prayer.  “If You are willing, let this cup pass from me.  Nevertheless, not My will by Yours be done.”  This is how I can be honest with God in my prayers where His will versus mine might be questionable.  “Lord, here is the honest wish of my soul…nevertheless, not my will but Yours be done.”  He is big enough to handle the earnest wishes of my heart.   Yet, I can posture myself in a right way by ending on, “Nevertheless…”  This is a prayer that balances total honesty and total surrender.  It is a perfect way to pray on such matters where our soul cries out for one thing, but we know that God may have a bigger plan (God had a big plan here :-) ).  

And God answered both prayers.  (They are really two prayers, you see.)  He said a temporary “no” to the first.  Jesus wound up drinking the cup of suffering and separation from the Father.  This is the cup that belonged to us because of our sin.  However, I would point out that, once Jesus was resurrected, He would never be separated from the immediate presence of His Father ever again.  So, even though He got a “no” on the first one, His death and separation did not last but a proverbial minute in the grand scheme of things.  This is also comforts us with the beauty of what prayer is:  We are not approaching God not with incantations or manipulation to get Him to do things.  We are asking an all-knowing, all-loving Father for things, knowing the He knows what is best and will do what is best…but that He also takes pleasure in granting us our requests!  Even if He doesn’t answer those desires in the immediate way we might be asking for (though He often does), He does have a way of answering them in a more perfect way than we could have known to ask for later.

God answered the second prayer with a resounding “YES!”  …His will was done.  Though Jesus had to be separated from the Father for a moment, after that moment was over, He was eternally reunited with the Father, AND, He later emerges with pure, spotless bride to boot!  God knows what is best, and He can handle all the prayers we bring to Him, and tie them all together at the end in a mixture of what is His will and our will in perfect unity.  We can’t know what this looks like on the front end, but Jesus can give us the power and patience to hang on and submit to whatever the process is, so that we can experience all of His goodness in the end.  In the meantime, His prayer here gives us a model for what it looks like to be both honest before God and submitted to Him simultaneously. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Stop Teaching

Check out this provocative article I read today:

Stop Teaching Young People About Their Faith

I think some of the reason I enjoy doing college ministry at in a secular environment is that the young people I am training are being tested constantly in what they learn.  I also find it more engaging than doing it in the 'ivory tower' that so often typifies church settings.  The front lines are the best place to train!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Eyes to See

I have just finished the second chapter in Phillip Yancey's Rumors of Another World.  Thus far, it is excellent.  A seeming impossible combination of Apologetic and Devotional, it stimulates both my mind and heart.  This is a rare combination.  Some of the greatest pleasures in it are the quotes that he carefully laces through this work along with his own thoughts.  (This provides me with much further reading as well.)  My favorite so far is by Robert Barron:

[God] delights, it seems, in using trees, flowers, rivers, automobiles, friends, enemies, church buildings, paintings in order to announce His presence or to work out His purposes....There is something crude in the depiction of God intervening directly in the play, the clumsy deus ex machina interrupting the speeches of the other actors and upsetting the stage.  How much more tantalizing the God who hints an lurks and cajoles hiddenly through and around the actors, even unbeknownst to them.  It is the humble God who chooses so to act.

He has an absurd and distasteful desire who demands that God should shout "here I am" in response to his requirements.  It is the I AM he would manipulate.  I believe in signs and wonders, but it is "he who has an ear to hear" that will hear.  It is the ability to see that such a person should ask for.

Now, to quote Mr. Yancey:  "It takes the mystery of faith, always, to believe, for God has no apparent interest in compelling belief.  (If he had, the resurrected Jesus would have appeared to Herod and Pilate, not to His disciples.)" (Rumors, p.41)

He didn't appear to the pharisees either.  He appeared to His friends...because His friends, though not without doubt, believed in Him already.

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Prayer

"Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of thee; thou only knowest what I need....I simply present myself before thee, I open my heart to thee.  Behold my needs which I know not myself.  Smite, or heal; depress me, or raise me up; I adore all thy purposes without knowing them; I am silent; I offer myself in sacrifice; I yield myself to thee; I would have no other desire than to accomplish Thy Will.  Teach me to pray.  Pray yourself in me.  Amen." 

- Francois Fenelon

Monday, December 19, 2011

Praying for Patience

On Facebook today, I saw a post by a friend who's name will go unmentioned.  It was essentially a reminder to Christians not to ask for patience or humility, because God will put you through great trials to produce it.  I've heard variations of this over the years.  The most common one I've heard goes like this: "Never pray for patience, because God will bring you trials!" It's cute and everything, but as a Christian, it actually has begun to make me angry whenever I hear it.  It's implications are disastrous.

When a person says that, they are, in effect, saying: "Do not pray that God would make you more like Jesus, because in order to do that, He'll have to refine you through pain and difficulty.  You don't want that.  It's better to lie in the sloth of your flesh, and go to heaven a spiritual infant."  Of course, no Christian would ever say that.  But this is what people mean when they say it, whether they mean to mean it or not.

The gifts of the Spirit (healing, prophecy, tongues, etc.) are gifts.  They are given, and they are available to anyone who has the faith to exercise them.  However, the fruit of the Spirit are, well, fruit.  They are grown over time through processes that God ordains in our lives.   Both are important, but the fruit of Spirit are attributes of Christ's character.  When we say that someone is like Jesus, this is most of what we mean.  Jesus worked miracles in addition to being patient and such, but anyone with an ounce of faith can do this.  The disciples were doing miracles long before they displayed much of the fruit of the Spirit.  ....But maturity is in the development of the fruit

Also, the real pleasure of being a Christian is in becoming more like Christ.  (For heaven's sake, that's what it means to be called a Christian!)  When you realize that the things that used to throw you into a tantrum no longer do...when you care about souls...when you find yourself hating what Jesus hates and loving what He loves....when you actually learn to love someone who  may never love you back...when you really learn how to forgive....that is satisfying.  Then you are free.

That, beloved, is why we should pray for patience, and all the other fruit of the Spirit.  When we pray for those things, we are praying to be more like Jesus, and when that happens, we can know Him and enjoy Him more fully.   Screw selfishness.  Ask for patience.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Expulsive Power

Check out what I read this morning:

Only by a stronger passion can evil passions be expelled, and .... a soul unoccupied by a positive devotion is sure to be occupied by spiritual demons.  The safety of the Master in the presence of temptation lay in his complete and positive devotion to his mission: there was no unoccupied room in his soul where evil could find a home; he knew what Dr. Chalmers called, "The expulsive Power of a new affection."  When Ulysses passed the Isle of Sirens, he had himself tied to the mast of and had his ears stopped with wax, that he might not hear the sirens singing - a picture of many man's pitiful attempts after negative goodness. But when Orpheus passed the Isle of Sirens, he sat on the deck, indifferent, for he too was a musician, and could make melody more beautiful than the sirens, that their alluring songs were to him discords.  Such is the Master's life of positive goodness, so full, so glad, so triumphant, that it conquered sin by surpassing it.  Have you such a saving positiveness of loyal devotion in your life?  (Harry Emerson Fosdick, The Manhood of the Master)

I think this "saving positiveness" is something we must ask for, but must also cultivate if we are to experience it.  Our heart becomes softer toward Him through the discipline of moving it close to His flame day by day.  This is why the probationary period that so many of us put ourselves into after a failure is so damaging - it is keeping us from the one thing that will ultimately conquer sin in our lives: a new affection.  We must run into the presence of God after we fall, not away from it.  He is not shocked by our weakness.  He knew what He was getting when He paid for us.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Good Interpretation

As I have been ministering on campus with InterVarsity for roughly a year and half now, I have fallen more deeply in love with the Bible.   I have been spending much time in the gospels with my students, and before this, I had spent the past few years reading through all the narrative portions of the Old Testament, as well as spending a lot of time in Psalms.  It is also important to mention that I grew up on a steady diet of scripture from a very young age (I have my mother to thank for this).  This has resulted in a pretty decent accrual of scriptural knowledge up to this point.  One of the most exhilarating things about all this has been that I am constantly seeing more continuity in the Word than I have ever seen before.  The Bible is continually making more sense to me, not less.  If you have not read it, or have not been spending much time in it recently, I plead with you to do so!  I am convinced that this is the most amazing work of literature in the world!

That said, I read portions of  a book recently that has confirmed a lot of what I have been learning about the study to scripture, and I wanted to share a few paragraphs of it with all of you teachers, preachers, and passionate studiers out there.  The book is called How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart.  This is an excerpt from Chapter 1:

We agree that Christians should learn to read, believe, and obey the Bible.  And we especially agree that the Bible need not be an obscure book if studied and read properly.  In fact, we are convinced that the single most serious problem people have with the Bible is not with a lakc of understanding, but with the fact that they understand most things too well!  For example, with such a text as "Do everything without grumbling or arguing." (Phil 2:14), the problem is not understanding it but obeying it - putting it in to practice.

We also agree that the preacher or teacher is all too often prone to dig first and look later, and thereby cover up the plain meaning of the text, which often lies on the surface.  Let it be said at the outset - and repeated throughout - the aim of good interpretation is not uniqueness; one is not trying to discover what no one else has ever seen before.

Interpretation that aims at, or thrives on, uniqueness can usually be attributed to pride (an attempt to "outclever" the rest of the world), a false understanding of spirituality (wherein the Bible is full of deeply buried truths waiting to be mined by the spiritually sensitive person with special insight). or vested interests (the need to support a theological bias, especially in dealing with texts that seem to go against that bias).  Unique interpretations are usually wrong.  This is not to say that the correct understanding of a text may not seem unique to to someone who hears it for the first time.  But it is to say the uniqueness is not the aim of our task.

The aim of good interpretation is simple:  to get at the "plain mean meaning of the text."  And the most important ingredient one brings to this task is enlightened common sense.  The test of good interpretation is that it makes good sense of the text.  Correct interpretation, therefore, brings relief to the mind as well as a prick or prod to the heart.